[UPDATED] Operators at the Edwin I. Hatch Nuclear Plant in Georgia on Sunday safely returned Unit 1 to service following a planned refueling and maintenance outage that began Feb. 4 at 9:28 p.m., local time. The novelty of the occasion, however, involved the fuel used for the restart. In collaboration with Global Nuclear Fuel, Southern Nuclear said in a press statement, Plant Hatch installed accident tolerant fuel test assemblies developed by the U.S. Department of Energy.
Southern Nuclear called the new fuel assemblies "industry-changing" in regards to both safety and efficiency advantages. It is the first of its kind to be installed in a commercial nuclear reactor, the company said.
"We were thrilled to install the new test assemblies at Plant Hatch," said John Williams, Southern Nuclear nuclear fuel director. "Our top priority is the safety and health of the public and our employees, and this game-changing technology will make plants even safer, resulting in more flexibility in our operations. This is not a small step, but a leap for our industry."
The last refueling outage for Unit 1 was completed in spring 2016. Each unit at Plant Hatch requires new fuel every 24 months. In addition to refueling the reactor and performing regular maintenance and testing, workers made upgrades to plant systems and components.
Plant Hatch Unit 2 continued to safely generate electricity while Unit 1 was offline and refueling.
"I commend our team for their focus on working safely and efficiently," said Plant Hatch Vice President David Vineyard. "The work we perform during our outages is a significant investment in our facility. Unit 1 is positioned not just for the next 24 months, but for years of continued safe and reliable electricity production."
Employees from across the Southern Nuclear fleet participated in the refueling and maintenance outage. Plant Hatch's staff of more than 900 contributed and more than 800 additional workers from General Electric, Day and Zimmerman, and other partners were on site performing specialized tasks. This supplemental workforce provides economic stimulus to surrounding communities during the planning stages and throughout the outage. Southern Nuclear, a subsidiary of Southern Company, operates Plant Hatch on behalf of Georgia Power and co-owners Oglethorpe Power, MEAG Power and Dalton Utilities.
Global Nuclear Fuel (GNF) delivered its lead test assemblies of its IronClad and ARMOR accident tolerant fuel solutions to Southern Nuclear in early February. The company has been working with both Southern Nuclear and Exelon Generation to insert lead test assemblies utilizing an iron-chromium-aluminum fuel cladding material known as IronClad and coated zirconium fuel cladding known as ARMOR into several reactors over the next few years.
“Accident tolerant fuel technology offers superior safety margin to address a beyond design basis event and the potential for more cost-effective operation of the existing boiling water reactor fleet," said Amir Vexler, CEO of GNF in a separate statement.
GNF developed the ARMOR coating, which is applied to a standard zirconium fuel rod, to provide debris resistance and more oxidation resistance than standard zirconium cladding. Both advanced technology materials are part of GNF’s portfolio to solve industry challenges.
The installation of IronClad material at Plant Hatch includes two variations of the iron-chromium-aluminum material. One material is in fuel rod form that will not be fueled while the other material is in the form of a solid bar segment. ARMOR lead test assemblies that contain fueled coated zirconium rods were installed in the same reload at Plant Hatch. Lead test assemblies that include both IronClad and ARMOR fueled rods are planned for 2019 installation at Exelon Generation’s Clinton Power Station.
GNF’s IronClad material is designed to provide substantial oxidation resistance and excellent material behavior over a range of conditions. The low oxidation rates of this material at higher temperatures further improves safety limit margins. In addition to developing the assemblies for insertion, GNF has been working closely with suppliers to establish robust fabrication processes for the cladding and with industry leaders, including utilities, national laboratories and other fuel vendors, to assess the economic benefit of ferritic steel-clad fuel rods and on advanced technology fuel solutions more generally.
GNF’s ARMOR coated zirconium cladding is designed to enhanc protection of fuel rods against debris fretting. ARMOR also provides oxidation resistance and superior material behavior over a range of conditions making it an attractive technology to improve safety limit margins and abrasion resistance. The lead test assemblies were engineered and manufactured at GNF’s state-of-the-art facility in Wilmington, North Carolina.
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